Sylvia D. Kreibig, Alan S. Brown, James J. Gross

Quantitative versus qualitative emotion regulation goals: Differential effects on emotional responses

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Neurology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • General Neuroscience

AbstractEmotion regulation (ER) involves both a goal (e.g., to feel less emotion) and a strategy (e.g., reappraisal). To clarify the impact of ER goals on emotional responding, we conducted a within‐participant study (N = 156) in which we held the strategy constant (reappraisal) to isolate the impact of regulation goals. We compared the impact of a quantitative goal (changing emotion quantity/intensity) with that of a qualitative goal (changing emotion quality/type) on emotional responses to negative and positive pictures. We manipulated ER goals by cuing participants to continue viewing the picture (unregulated/no ER goal) or to reappraise it to decrease its predominant affective impact (quantitative goal) or increase its opposite‐valence impact (qualitative goal). We assessed emotional responses through self‐reported feelings and facial expressions (corrugator supercilii and zygomaticus major electromyography). Our findings suggest that the type of regulation goal has a differential effect on emotional responses, with qualitative goals being more effective in modulating both negative and positive emotions. For negative stimuli, attempts to use a quantitative goal decreased negative but not positive emotional responses (uncoupled negative deactivation). Conversely, attempts to use a qualitative goal decreased negative and increased positive emotional responses (reciprocal positive activation). For positive stimuli, the quantitative goal generated uncoupled positive deactivation, while the qualitative goal produced reciprocal negative activation. Results highlight the importance of considering specific regulation goals in shaping emotional responses. Future research in the field of ER may benefit from identifying and manipulating different goals and strategies to understand how to effectively regulate emotions.

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